Reflections on Nelson Mandela by Laura Roller

Laura Roller is the Senior Director Corporate, Foundation and Government Relations at Augsburg College

Back in the early ’80s, an elderly board member who later became a mentor asked me who my heroes were. No one had ever asked that directly. In fact, “heroes” as it related to public leaders just wasn’t a concept that was talked about much in that post-Watergate era. Anyway, I was stumped for an answer. He said it was important to have heroes because it cultivated gratitude and optimism, and staved off cynicism. 

I still remember how thousands of people stood in line for days to cast their vote in the 1994 presidential election in South Africa, and how miraculous it was that no bloodbath followed the transition of power. My husband and I were talking last night about how lucky we are to have lived in a remarkable moment in time. In our lifetimes, we’ve seen the tragedies of the assassinations of Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and the elections of Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. Real proof that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice!

You may enjoy the following, which includes quotes from several of his major speeches. Though I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the quotations, I believe they’re correct.:


“Difficulties break some men but make others. No ax is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise in the end.”

“Our march to freedom is irreversible. We must not allow fear to stand in our way.”

“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it….The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

“Prison itself is a tremendous education in the need for patience and perseverance. It is above all a test of one’s commitment.”

“I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

“Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”

“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.”

More biographical information:


This entry was posted in Laureate, Nobel Peace Prize. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>